Save money (and stress) on your family vacation

Why It Matters:

  • According to a survey, 54% of Americans are leaving unused vacation days on the table.
  • Vacation with the family provides some much-needed R&R for everyone.
  • Plan a budget-friendly getaway. Taking on debt can counter the intended stress-relief vacations offer.

Ryan Johnson tkc.profilePicture Written by: Ryan Johnson | Transamerica
08/23/2017

6 Min readClock Icon

You need a vacation. Desperately, perhaps.

What you don’t need is an expensive getaway that racks up credit card debt and ultimately adds—rather than alleviates—stress.

So, you don’t just need a vacation. You need a budget-friendly vacation suitable for the whole family.

Take the time

Anyone who’s ever slept until 9 a.m., then strolled to a breakfast buffet with exotic fresh fruits before staking claim on a lounge chair near the swim-up bar, understands this universal human truth: Vacation feels good. But not everyone is taking the time they’ve earned.

A survey conducted by Project: Time Off and the U.S. Travel Association found that 96% of Americans say using their vacation time is important. But some 54% are leaving earned vacation time unused. Of 662 million unused vacation days, 206 million are forfeited. That’s a big chunk of employee benefits lost and, perhaps more important, a whole lot of R&R never enjoyed. Knowledge Place explored the costs of skipping vacation — both financially and emotionally. A key takeaway for everyone: Don’t be a work martyr. Use the time you’ve earned.

To help you and your family take a much-needed break without breaking the bank, here are some suggestions.

Nature is free

If you’re a camper, you can probably attest to the benefits — both financially and mentally—of a night in the wilderness. But even if you prefer a down comforter to a down sleeping bag, vacationing near our nation’s natural wonders can provide some cost savings and plenty of inspiring scenery.

As Parents.com notes, “It’s no secret that national parks are a pretty cheap date.” Two favorites noted for natural beauty and proximity to other free attractions: Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks.

The city isn’t free, but it can be affordable

While many summer travelers seek the sun and sand or fresh mountain air, urban hotels are often left with a surplus of inventory—and that can mean lower rates. Explore a city’s parks, visit a zoo, or look for free family-friendly concerts. And if the temperatures rise, retreat to the air-conditioned comfort of museums and other indoor attractions. For a plethora of free educational entertainment, the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. offers “the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex.”

To find special promotions and package deals, search city tourism websites. Check out these examples from DenverChicago, and Orlando.

Book when other kids are in school

School calendars vary by region. Because many destinations cater to families traveling by car, prices at popular places can spike when kids in that area are on summer vacation. Tripsavvy.com suggests, “When vacationing outside your own region, time your trip so that you arrive when local-area kids are either still in school or back to school."

Fuel up when it’s cheapest

If you’re planning to drive to your destination, buy gas when and where it’s cheapest. Fuelcaster.com locates the best deals on gas in your area and even predicts if prices will rise or fall tomorrow.

Consider a vacation rental

Access to a hotel’s 24-hour room service, a healing day spa, and four expansive pools with water features is a real treat. It’s also really expensive. By renting a house or condo, you might be able to stretch your dollars while giving the family space to stretch out. You can also gain your own private, make-all-the-noise-you-want space for smaller children to play in.

Here are a few resources to help in your search: Homeaway.comVRBO.com, and AirBnB.com.

Dine in, pack a picnic

Sampling the local food and exploring restaurants while on vacation is part of the fun of travel. But taking the family out for three meals a day gets costly. If you stay in a rental —or even a suite with a small kitchen—try preparing a few meals to cut down on costs. Or if you’re staying in a hotel, hit the local grocery and grab fixings for a simple picnic while sightseeing.

Be a spontaneous planner

Without some amount of preparation, vacation costs can add up. But having some flexibility on when and where you go might garner a good deal. Search the travel sites and sign up for alerts. Even a short, last-minute getaway with the kids can offer the rejuvenation you all need. Check out Kayak.comExpedia.com, and Hotels.com for some ideas. And check with hotel loyalty programs for packaged deals and other money-saving perks.

Enjoy time with the family

Whether you go for an extended trip across the country or take a short drive for a long weekend, the best part of a family vacation is family. So unplug from work, reserve smartphone use for the occasional photo op, and just have fun. You’ve earned it.

Things to Consider:

  • Explore our national parks for a lower-cost adventure. Or look for hotel deals in urban destinations where summer rates might drop.
  • Research school calendars in a given region. Rates tend to fall when kids in that area are in school.
  • Instead of paying for the added amenities at a hotel, consider renting a vacation house or condo. Access to a kitchen can reduce dining costs during your getaway.
  • Sign up for alerts and last-minute deals with travel sites and hotel loyalty programs.

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